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Europe's Thermal Water Spas

By: Caroline Rushworth
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Bottled water is a $100 billion a year industry. The demand for water’s healing powers extends from the inside out, making thermal water—packed with organic elements—a popular natural cure-all. Ancient European cities were built around thermal springs and remain popular tourism venues today. The spa industry has capitalized on the many benefits of water in various forms of hydrotherapy, making it an industry unto itself.

A little drop of rain

The transformation of water into thermal water is actually a geological phenomenon. First, precipitation filters deep into the surface of the Earth, spending a period of time in contact with the underlying rock. The water then rises to the surface, resulting in permeation with several elements, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium, which can benefit the body’s natural chemistry and physiology. Today, deep wells have been created where hot springs already exist, thus ensuring a continuous supply of this extraordinary water.

Throughout Europe, there are a number of noteworthy thermal springs and spas, from Brittany to Budapest, where Europeans have made “taking the waters” an art form. Dating back to the Roman Empire, spa-going has been an integral part of health, culture and society.

Belgium

Known as a renowned site of healing hot springs, the city of Spa has been frequented as a watering place for several centuries. Although hot mineral springs are famous throughout the world, Spa has become eponymous with natural water believed to contain special health-giving properties.

Legend states that Spa’s fame began in the 14th century, when an ironmaster from a nearby town heard of a fountain in the woods that supposedly possessed healing powers. In the hopes of finding a therapy for his aching joints and rheumatism, the man was cured after bathing in the fountain. The word spread, and soon people throughout Europe traveled to the spring to restore their health. The flow of cure-seekers also named Spa “The Café of Europe.”